In Multipolarity

Commentary by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent, May 23, 2017  (with extensive, additional analysis further below, compiled by New Cold War.org)

President Trump leaves the Middle East today, having done his bit to make the region even more divided and mired in conflict than it was before.

Donald and Melania Trump with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017 (EPA)

At the same moment that Donald Trump was condemning the suicide bomber in Manchester as “an evil loser in life”, he was adding to the chaos in which al-Qaeda and Isis have taken root and flourished. It may be a long distance between the massacre in Manchester and the wars in the Middle East, but the connection is there.

Trump blamed “terrorism” almost exclusively on Iran and, by implication, on the Shia minority in the region, while al-Qaeda notoriously developed in the Sunni heartlands and its beliefs and practises primarily stem from Wahhabism, the sectarian and regressive variant of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia. It flies in the face of all known facts to link the wave of terrorist atrocities since 9/11 on the Shia, who have most usually been its target.

This toxic historical myth-making does not deter Trump. “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region,” he told an assembly of 55 Sunni leaders in Riyadh on 21 May.

In Israel, he informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 is “a terrible, terrible thing… we gave them a lifeline”.

By furiously attacking Iran, Trump will encourage Saudi Arabia and Gulf monarchs to escalate their proxy wars throughout the central core of the Middle East. It will encourage Iran to take precautions and assume that a long-term understanding with the U.S. and the Sunni states is becoming less and less feasible.

There are already some signs that Trump’s endorsement of Sunni states, no matter how repressive, is leading to an escalation of hostilities between Sunni and Shia. In Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules a Shia majority, the security forces attacked the Shia village of Diraz today. It is home to the island’s leading Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, who has just received a one-year suspended sentence for financing extremism. One man in the village is reported to have been killed as the police moved in, using armoured vehicles and firing shotguns and tear gas canisters.

President Obama had frosty relations with the Bahraini rulers because of the mass incarceration of protesters and use of torture when the security forces crushed democratic protests in 2011. Trump backed away from past policy when he met Bahraini King Hamad in Riyadh at the weekend, saying: “Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won’t be strain with this administration.”

The bombing in Manchester – and atrocities attributed to ISIS influence in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin – are similar to even worse slaughter of tens of thousands in Iraq and Syria. These get limited attention in the Western media, but they continually deepen the sectarian war in the Middle East.

The only feasible way to eliminate organisations capable of carrying out these attacks is to end the seven wars – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north east Nigeria – that cross-infect each other and produce the anarchic conditions in which ISIS and al-Qaeda and their clones can grow. But to end these wars, there needs to be political compromise between main players like Iran and Saudi Arabia and Trump’s belligerent rhetoric makes this almost impossible to achieve.

Of course, the degree to which Trump’s bombast should be taken seriously is always uncertain and his declared policies change by the day.

On his return to the U.S., his attention is going to be fully focused on his own political survival, not leaving much time for new departures, good or bad, in the Middle East and elsewhere. His administration is certainly wounded, but that has not stopped doing as much harm as he could in the Middle East in a short space of time.


British intelligence warned Tony Blair of Manchester-like terrorism if the West invaded Iraq

By Jon Schwarz, The Intercept, May 23, 2017

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has yet to say anything about Monday’s [May 22] heinous, nihilistic suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. According to current reporting, the attack has been claimed by ISIS and was carried out by a 22-year-old man born in Manchester to Libyan refugees.

But when Blair does speak, we can be certain he won’t mention one key fact: Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by the U.S. and UK, he was forcefully and repeatedly warned by Britain’s intelligence services that it would lead to exactly this type of terrorist attack — and he concealed these warnings from the British people, instead claiming the war would reduce the risk of terrorism.

We know this because of the Chilcot Report, the seven-year-long British investigation of the Iraq War, released in 2016. The report declassifies numerous internal government documents that illustrate the yawning chasm between what Blair was being told in private and his claims in public as he pushed for war.

On February 10, 2003, one month before the war began, the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee — the key advisory body for the British Prime Minister on intelligence matters — issued a white paper titled ‘International Terrorism: War With Iraq’. It began:

The threat from Al Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. They will target Coalition forces and other Western interests in the Middle East. Attacks against Western interests elsewhere are also likely, especially in the US and UK, for maximum impact. The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly.

And it concluded much the same way:

Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West. [emphasis added in both cases]

The same report concluded that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “would aspire to conduct terrorist attacks against Coalition interests” only in the event of an invasion. Moreover, “authoritative reporting suggests that Iraqi Intelligence (DGI) has little reach or [terrorism] capability outside Iraq.”

Specifically regarding WMD terrorism, the JIC elsewhere judged that Iraq “would be unlikely to undertake or sponsor such terrorist attacks,” that the threat of it if Iraq were not invaded was “slight,” and that there was no “credible evidence of covert transfers of WMD-related technology and expertise to terrorist groups.”

Tony Blair’s case for war, as most clearly expressed in his March 18, 2003 remarks in the House of Commons, essentially turned all of this on its head. The possibility, Blair said, of terrorist groups obtaining WMD from a state like Iraq was “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security.”

“The real problem,” Blair proclaimed, “is that, underneath, people dispute that Iraq is a threat, dispute the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and dispute, in other words, the whole basis of our assertion that the two together constitute a fundamental assault on our way of life.” Blair did not mention that the people disputing this included his own intelligence services.

Then Tam Dalyell, a Labor MP from Scotland, asked Blair this key question:What could be more calculated to act as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world than putting 600 cruise missiles — or whatever it is — onto Baghdad and Iraq?”

Blair did not reveal the explicit warnings from the JIC that exactly this would happen. No, he told Dalyell, “Unless we take action against [Al Qaeda], they will grow. That is why we should act.” Terrorist organizations wouldn’t be motivated, as the JIC had told him, by an invasion of Iraq, because their true motivation was that “they detest the freedom, democracy and tolerance that are the hallmarks of our way of life.”

Blair’s stunningly fraudulent case for war carried the day, 412-149. The current British Prime Minister Theresa May, then a Conservative front bencher, voted for it. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn voted against.

Then, exactly what the JIC had predicted occurred. Fifty-two people were killed in July 2005 when four suicide bombers — three of whom were British-born — carried out attacks on the subway and a bus in London. One of the killers taped himself stating that they were killing their fellow citizens because Western governments “continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.” In a separate tape another said, “What have you witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Two months ago, a British-born Muslim convert murdered four people with a car on Westminster Bridge, then got out and stabbed a policeman to death. Just minutes before his killing spree he declared via WhatsApp that he was acting in revenge against Western wars in the Mideast.

And now we have the slaughter in Manchester. ISIS has declared that the attack was carried out “in order to terrorize the polytheists, and in response to their transgressions against the homes of the Muslims.”

In her testimony before the Chilcot inquiry, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5 at the time of the Iraq invasion, explained all of this:

Our involvement in Iraq radicalized, for want of a better word … a few among a generation … [who] saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.

An increasing number of British-born individuals … were attracted to the ideology of Usama Bin Laden and saw the West’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their fellow religionists and the Muslim world.

If British officials had read the JIC’s warnings, Manningham-Buller said, they could “have had no doubt” that this was likely to happen. So did Blair read the intelligence, specifically the February 2003 paper on international terrorism? He absolutely was aware of it, Blair told the inquiry, “but I took the view then and take the same view now that to have backed down because of the threat of terrorism would be completely wrong.”

But of course, this was just another brazen misrepresentation by Blair. He had not taken “the view then,” at least in public, that invading Iraq would increase the risk that Britons would die in terrorist attacks, but it would be somehow worth it. Instead, he had claimed that they would be at greater risk without a war, because if left alone Saddam Hussein would enable WMD-armed terrorism.

Asked how she saw this perspective, Manningham-Buller told the inquiry that “It is a hypothetical theory. It certainly wasn’t of concern in either the short-term or the medium-term to my colleagues and myself.”

In the end, the most plausible explanation of Blair’s motivation is simply that he was willing to sacrifice the lives of British citizens so that the U.S. could continue running the world with the UK holding its coat. Richard Shultz, a professor of international politics at Tufts who has long been a key national security state intellectual, wrote in 2004 that “A very senior [Special Operations Forces] officer who had served on the Joint Staff in the 1990s told me that more than once he heard terrorist strikes characterized as ‘a small price to pay for being a superpower’.”

The victims of the Manchester bombing, among them an 8-year-old girl, are that small price.

Further related:

Iranian media ties Manchester bombing to Trump’s Saudi visit, by Rohollah Faghihi, Al-Monitor, May 24, 2017

Trump goes on Iran-bashing tour, by Laura Rozen, Al-Monitor, May 22, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump, arriving in Israel on May 22 right after a stop in Saudi Arabia, found another ally eager to praise him for his tough stance on Iran — and encourage him to get even tougher. “I want you to know how much we appreciate the change in American policy on Iran, which you enunciated so clearly,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in joint remarks with Trump at their third meeting of the day.

At an earlier meeting with the Israeli leader at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, Trump had lambasted the nuclear deal negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama in remarks that Netanyahu could almost have drafted himself. He called the 2015 agreement a “terrible, terrible thing” and promised that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon, “that I can tell you.” …

Trump panders to the Saudi royals, by Paul R. Pillar, Consortium News, May 22, 2017

President Trump’s speech to the Islamic world amounted to a pander to his regal Saudi hosts and a blindness toward the realities of Mideast terrorism.

White House blames exhaustion for Donald Trump’s ‘Islamic terrorism’ dog whistle in Saudi Arabia, by Mattathias Schwartz, The Intercept, May 22, 2017

What is President Donald Trump’s position on Islam? Does he consider Islam to be a religion of peace? Or, as Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn once put it, is Islam “like a cancer”?

Judging by Trump’s own ad-libbed departure from the speech he delivered yesterday in Saudi Arabia, the president is thinking about Islam with his typical combination of deep cynicism and utter cluelessness…

U.S.-led strikes record highest civilian toll in Syria, says monitor, Press TV, May 23, 2017

A coalition of military forces allegedly fighting Daesh and other terror groups in Syria under the leadership of the United States has killed the highest number of civilians in a matter of one month since it began operations three years ago.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group mostly advocating anti-government forces in the war in Syria, said on Tuesday that the US-led coalition killed a total of 225 civilians between April 23 and May 23, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014. “There has been a very big escalation … The past month of operations is the highest civilian toll since the coalition began bombing Syria,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said…

The art of a lethal deal: Trump’s offer to Saudi Arabia, by David Des Roches, War On The Rocks,  May 24, 2017

The president offered the Saudis a lot of weapons on his trip to Riyadh. Can he deliver? …

*****

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